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WHAT DOES ECONOMIC RECONCILIATION LOOK LIKE?
by Steven McCoy
April 25, 2022
When it comes to Indigenous issues in Canada, the big buzz word over the last few years is reconciliation. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) defined the term as “the process of establishing and maintaining a mutually respectful relationship between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal peoples in this country.”
The problem I have with the term reconciliation is that there is an implied onus on both sides, Indigenous and non-Indigenous people, to come together and reconcile the past. But the truth is, Indigenous people do not have to reconcile with anyone or anything because we did not do anything wrong.
We Indigenous people have endured the most brutal extermination policies imposed by governments designed to eliminate our very existence to secure land and resource wealth for the settlers of this country.
Our people know all too well the lasting negative effects these policies have had on them over the years versus the immense wealth those same polices have created for everyone else in the country. The rest of the population is just starting to come to terms with the true horrors of how the country’s wealth was achieved today.
How bad was it you may ask? Well, Adolf Hitler wrote about in his book, Mein Kampf, how he admired the polices that Canada and the United States implemented to deal with the “Indian problem” so he took the same policies and concentrated those efforts against the Jews and other minorities when he rose to power with the Nazi Party in Germany.
The difference between Nazi Germany then and Canada now is that Nazi Germany has been defeated and and its racist policies dismantled while Canada is still using many of those same policies of extermination and oppression today against our people through policies like the “Indian Act” and "Doctrine of Discovery".
In Germany, they are taught about the horrors of what Hitler did to the Jewish race and other minorities. Here in Canada, we still have statues to commemorate the inventors of these racist policies and we have their faces plastered on our currency. That is how much those past polices are tied to the current wealth of this country.
The very reason these policies of elimination were implemented was to secure lands and resources to create wealth for the colonizers and ruling governments. And what immense wealth it has created for them and continues to build through financial tools like inheritances.
I live in the city off-reserve and I have a neighbour, who is non-Indigenous person and retired. He has a camp property outside the city on the shores of beautiful Lake Superior. The property was passed down through his family who obtained it after the government removed the “Indians” that were living there and secured the lands to give away to settlers for next to nothing.
That one piece of property is now worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, six figures, and will continue to rise in value. My neighbour will pass that property down to his adult children as an inheritance. From there his children can either keep it for their own enjoyment and pass down as an inheritance or sell it for their own benefit.
What did that family do to earn that property? In my mind, nothing. They did nothing but be born into a certain race and a certain family. What did we, Indigenous people, have to give up for my neighbour and people like him to gain that kind of wealth? Everything. We gave up everything because we were born as another race and were living on lands their ancestors wanted.
My neighbour also believes in the Bering Strait theory, which, through archeological evidence has been disproven over and again.
Things like the Bering Strait theory and the Doctrine of Discovery contribute to the attitudes of not wanting to learn what really happened in history. This allows people like my neighbour to sleep well at night because they have justified their wealth instead of thinking too much about the true realities of how it was obtained.
This is where reconciliation needs to happen for non-Indigenous people. When they realize that the wealth that has been passed down through generation after generation may not be entirely due to the hard work of their past relatives but mainly due to the racist policies that permitted land theft and promoted genocide against another race of human beings.
We Indigenous people have lived on those lands for millennia and we were always wealthy. We thrived on these lands before the colonizers brought us to the brink of extermination. But despite all of this, we are still here! We are still here, surviving, preserving and, once again, thriving.
We had to give up everything for the settlers and colonizers to build the kind of wealth they benefit from today. To me, economic reconciliation is when the settlers start helping the Indigenous people get wealthy, instead of the other way around.
Let face it, the settlers of today gained their wealth because their relatives and ancestors took our culture, our languages, our beliefs, our stories, our history, our lands, our resources, our freedom and our lives for their own benefit.
If you are taking reconciliation, it better include ways of giving lands, resources and wealth back to us Indigenous people until we get back on a level economic playing field, which could take decades or even generations to achieve.
Progress is happening which is evident in the Hudson’s Bay Co.’s recent announcement to transfer ownership of its former flagship department store in downtown Winnipeg over to the Southern Chiefs’ Organization, which represents 34 Anishinaabe and Dakota Nations in southern Manitoba.
This is a very iconic moment in time when a company like Hudson’s Bay Co., which was a central proponent in the colonization of Canada for the past 350 years, is giving lands and assets back to the Indigenous population instead of exploiting them or making empty gestures, like land acknowledgement.
Land acknowledgements are nice and a good start to acknowledging historic wrongs but a friend of mine explained it best as to what land acknowledgements feel like to many Indigenous people like me.
He said imagine a thief who stole your T.V, standing in front of you, acknowledging that it was originally your T.V., that it is a nice T.V. and that they are happy to be using your T.V……but they are not giving your T.V. back to you. He said that is what land acknowledgements feel like to him and it really resonated with me.
Real reconciliation starts when the people of this country can come to grips with the grim realities of its past, change the current treatment towards Indigenous people and realize the wealth they currently benefit from was built on the unmarked graves of murdered Indigenous children, not the hard work of their relatives.
When non-Indigenous people want to start helping us get on a level playing field economically speaking, then I will listen to them talk about reconciliation.
Even though ownership of lands goes against Indigenous beliefs, the reality is, land ownership creates wealth in this world. Economic reconciliation for Indigenous people in this country should involve non-Indigenous people, corporations and governments giving lands and resources back to the true and rightful occupants of these lands.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Steven McCoy is an Ojibwe from Garden River First Nation in Northern Ontario and life-long resident of Sault Ste. Marie. He is the founder of Indigenbiz where he publishes his journalistic work highlighting Indigenous people in business. He is also a successful businessman who specializes in communications, marketing, public relations and Indigenous liaison through another company he founded called Gencity Consulting. In addition, Steven is a skilled public speaker with a unique ability to capture the audience's attention through descriptive story telling. He is also a motivational speaker who draws upon his life experiences growing up off-reserve while overcoming poverty, abandonment and racism to achieve success.